'Peeping while you're sleeping' NSA parody T-shirt ban BACKFIRES
Spoof garment pulled over lawsuit fears, triggers Streisand Effect instead
Designers of a parody T-shirt mocking the NSA launched a successful crowdfunding campaign after being denied permission to sell it through custom goods marketplace Zazzle.
Dan McCall, founder of politically themed T-shirt company Liberty Maniacs, came up with an NSA-themed T-shirt that described the NSA as "the only part of the government that actually listens". The design features a logo similar to the real NSA logo but carrying the motto "peeping while you're sleeping" where the genuine design features "United States of America".
Zazzle, distributes most of Liberty Maniacs’ goods but “within an hour or two” of offering the NSA shirt for sale McCall received an email from the outlet telling him that sales of the shirt had been pulled by the online marketplace.
Zazzle told McCall that "your product contained content which infringes upon the intellectual property rights of National Security Agency," the Daily Dot, via Slate, reports.
An NSA publicist cites Public Law 86-36 which states that it's not permitted for “. . . any person to use the initials 'NSA', the words 'National Security Agency' and the NSA seal without first acquiring written permission from the Director of NSA."
Zazzle ran foul of this particular rule two years ago in relation to the design of a mug and it seems the online marketplace acted itself as a result of this previous experience in pulling the T-shirt rather than as a result of a direct complaint from the NSA; at least if a statement from the agency is to be believed.
"NSA has not sent a cease and desist letter to Zazzle since March 2011 regarding a mug they were selling using the NSA Seal," the agency said. "At any time that NSA is made aware that the NSA Seal is being used without our permission, we will take appropriate actions."
However a quick search on the Zazzle web site reveals dozens of NSA-themed gifts remain on sale, some of which openly mock the controversial spy agency, including T-shirts featuring the motto "peeping while you're sleeping" and an NSA-style logo. Admittedly, the image in the logo of items on sale is heavily modified to feature an eagle wearing headphones, unlike the Liberty Maniacs case, and this is perhaps where the line has been drawn.
Naturally Liberty Maniacs has seized on the incident to claim that the t-shirt has been "censored by the NSA" in offering it for sale through alternative T-shirt vendor CafePress. The T-shirt "NSA doesn't want you to wear" is available for $15. PayPal donations are also being sought for what's billed as a first amendment (free speech) fight.
Liberty Maniacs is known for making digs at US politicians and government agencies. Its other parody T-shirts contain feature slogans like "Santorum Happens" and "The CIA: Democratizing the Shit Out of the Third World". ®